Background: Vocational integration of people with mental illness is poor despite their willingness to work. The 'Individual Placement and Support' (IPS) model which emphasises rapid and direct job placement and continuing support to patient and employer has proven to be the most effective vocational intervention programme. Various studies have shown that every second patient with severe mental illness was able to find competitive employment within 18 months. However, the goal of taking up employment within two months was rarely achieved. Thus, we aim to test whether the new concept of limited placement budgets increases the effectiveness of IPS. Methods/Design: Six job coaches in six out-patients psychiatric clinics in the Canton of Zurich support unemployed patients of their clinic who seek competitive employment. Between June 2010 and May 2011 patients (N=100) are randomly assigned to three different placement budgets of 25h, 40h, or 55h working hours of job coaches. Support lasts two years for those who find a job. The intervention ends for those who fail to find competitive employment when the respective placement budgets run out. The primary outcome measure is the time between study inclusion and first competitive employment that lasted three months or longer. Over a period of three years interviews are carried out every six months to measure changes in motivation, stigmatization, social network and social support, quality of life, job satisfaction, financial situation, and health conditions. Cognitive and social-cognitive tests are conducted at baseline to control for confounding variables. Discussion: This study will show whether the effectiveness of IPS can be increased by the new concept of limited placement budgets. It will also be examined whether competitive employment leads in the long term to an improvement of mental illness, to a transfer of the psychiatric support system to private and vocational networks, to an increase in financial independence, to a reduction of perceived and internalized stigma, and to an increase in quality of life and job satisfaction of the patient. In addition, factors connected with fast competitive employment and holding that job down in the long term are being examined (motivation, stigmatization, social and financial situation).
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